19 – Autumn

Bonnie had been to the Autumn Lands before. Despite the chill of encroaching winter that permeated the northern countries she called home, the cold in Autumn was lesser. Unprotected, one would still shiver, but here, no snow fell from the sky and the trees still kept their leaves, orange though they were.

In most circumstances, Bonnie would have enjoyed a walk through the Autumn woods. Monsters may lurk in all places, but not all the world was horror, pain, and death. The falling leaves reminded her of times in childhood, of stories told of Autumn fae with the eyes of cats and a demeanor much the same. 

Unlike the flowering butterflies of Summer and the thorned moths of Winter, Autumn prowled and pranced, dancing in the night and sharing generosity and mischief in equal measure. A bowl of milk left out would be taken as a gift, while payment for service rendered was an insult. Even then, their curses were of shoes untied and squeaking hinges. Not making a monster of a girl for the crime of distrusting strangers.

That thought alone would sour her mood, were it not already low from the company she kept.

Grace and Gloria Gritam were not hunters. They were clients. A pair of twins, well-known, old money. Nobility from the Beldier in their blood, wealthy from the Gritam name.

Hair of gold, skin of alabaster, the pair were identical in all respects aside from their eyes, and as it was known, eyes were a window to the soul. The eyes of Grace were a soft blue, like pools of water rippling with anxiety and nervousness, while the eyes of Glory were a fierce amber, prone to harsh glares and haughty smirks. 

Gloria was the less pleasant of the two, though she paid well. She held no fear of beasts and instead favored their heads. A hunter who could bring her rare hides was sure to earn her favor, and she delighted in tales of daring. A shame she held no pity for those who failed in seeking her approval.

A man might leap from a cliff to gain her favor, yet she would not even watch him splatter.

Grace was the more concerned of the two, her eyes darting to and fro even as they walked along the path. The sight of mushrooms beneath trees earned frightened flinches, and a pumpkin made her yelp, pressing closer to Bonnie’s side in an attempt at safety.

In that moment, her guise flickered.

The Sisters Gritam were not fully human. It was a barely held secret, one more open than a robbed vault. The glints in their eyes showed what they were, flickers of heat and cold.

There were stories of why they were who they were, tales told among society both high and low. That, perhaps, they were made of experiments into the fair folk. That they were sacrificed for their bodies to play host to fae nobility. Many tales with many strange ideas, though truth glimmered beneath the obfuscation of fascinating lies. 

Changelings were, in tales, the children of fae raised by unknowing humans while their original child was spirited away for unknown purposes. Some regarded the pair then as a case where the fae forgot to steal the original child and left the two to be raised together.

If that were the case, then it was impossible to tell at this point which one was once human and which was once fae.

Grace released Bonnie’s arms with a mumbled apology, prompting a scoff from her sister, who warned her not to thank the “help”, lest she get ideas.

Gloria then yelped as Bonnie fired, flinching away from the hunter on reflex before following the shot to spout the pumpkin with human teeth that had attempted to tangle its hand-like roots around the lady’s boots.

Gloria huffed, no thanks given, though she did stand closer to Bonnie as they continued their walk down the trails of Autumn.

Their guises flickered the further they walked. Their dresses and shawls, made for the cold, were material. They did not brighten nor fade, for they were physical, not glamored.

Sunflower and cornflower were the shades of the skin. Sunny Gloria’s golden hair warmed to a corona of flowering flames while snowy Grace’s twisted into teal brambles tipped with frost. For Glory, the left eye was the one that became an open flame, roaring in the hearth of her socket, while Grace’s right eye was pierced through by thorns. They were not full fae, only half, so they still had one eye each.

For a moment, Gloria paused in her complaints of their travels and duties to move close and fix her sister’s tangled hair. She chided Grace for her tangles and Grace thanked Glory with a giggle and a smile.

Bonnie felt a strange ache at the sight.

There was a reason she still agreed to take the escort job. Two reasons, specifically. 

It was a repayment for a favor Gloria owed her. A journey to a place where the fair and foul gathered.

A place where recompense could be found.

She was not there yet though. The sisters needed to be kept safe, for they were clients. 

That was why Bonnie unslung her rifle as the knight stumbled onto the path.

He was wrinkled, gnarled. He begged for a way out with his sword still in hand. The cape of some kingdom long gone hung from his shoulders. He wore no helmet, allowing the sight of the mushrooms growing out of his face to be seen. 

The entire right side had been consumed by the fungus and he begged through chapped lips for escape as one grew through his nose. That he had not meant to trespass, that he did not intend to spy, that he was merely captivated by beauty. He had to taste.

He would have a way out, or he would kill them all.

The bullet that went through his head put an end to such dreams, and the man screamed as the mushrooms sprouted from the new wound. His armor burst with them, a tower of fungi erupted through his chest. He was still screaming as the roots pushed onto the ground, not into, and began to walk him back into the forest.

Grace let out a sigh of relief, happy that the problem was dealt with. Gloria patted her back, assuring her that there was no more danger, though her gaze lingered on where the knight had disappeared into the brush.

Bonnie nudged her along. She ignored the glare from her client, and simply walked, keeping the pair safe.

The Autumn woods were fair. That did not mean they were kind.

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